Flights on Wheels: Guided Tours Offer Fun, Educational Experiences
During the summer of 2014, residents of Ozarkansas began noticing a new vehicle in their midst – a basil green 1970 Volkswagen bus with a white top and the “Hogshead Tours” logo in white along either side. Locals were soon introduced to “Vanny” the main transportation for a new company providing excursions to local craft breweries.
Dustin and Lora Murphy, of Fayetteville, created Hogshead Tours, the area’s first beer, wine, and culinary touring company, to share their love of the area and its unique charm. The Murphys have a great love for traveling, and they have been all over the United States and Europe. They often enjoy tours – particularly those including beer, wine, and food – during their own excursions.
“We love that whole experience,” Lora says. “I feel it really gives you insight into the culture.”
They often found themselves on self-guided tours of Ozarkansas’ ever-growing beer scene and wondering why no one had started the type of service here that they loved so much in their travels.
“We were constantly asking ourselves, ‘Why has this not happened here yet? Somebody needs to do this,’” Lora says. “And then the epiphany came, ‘Oh. It should be us. We need to do this.’”
Having a VW van as the service’s icon and main transport became an obsession for Lora. She soon found one online and bought one-way tickets to California to pick it up. The catch: neither Lora nor Dustin knew how to drive a standard transmission vehicle.
“We gave [the seller] the check, he went into the bank, he cashed the check, and then we said, ‘We don’t know how to drive this. Can you show us?’”
After a lesson in a Home Depot parking lot, Lora, Dustin, and Vanny were on their way to Arkansas. The inaugural tour was launched on the last weekend in July 2014.
The name hogshead refers to a term dating as far back as the 15th century to denote the specific volume of a large cask generally used for holding alcoholic beverages such as beer, wine, and spirits. Casks were given names such as butt, hogshead, barrel, kilderkin, firkin, and pin to signify the amounts of liquid it held (largest to smallest in this list).
The specific quantity for hogshead casks has varied from roughly 48 to 65 gallons over time, compared with today’s conventional half-barrel keg, which is legally defined as 31 gallons. While the Murphys could have gone with any number of names for their tour service, Hogshead captured a sense of history and purpose as well as a sense of place, given the area’s connection to the Arkansas Razorbacks.
For first-time visitors and life-long residents alike, there is always something new to learn about Ozarkansas. Hogshead Tours are designed to be fun and educational as well as an experience to be shared and enjoyed. They take their guests behind the scenes to learn about the products, the businesses, the owners, and the area.
“Whether it’s a brewery, a winery, a restaurant, or anywhere else, we want to make sure that those on the tour know about the owners and know the history to the places they’re about to set foot in,” Lora says. “That’s what we always appreciated about the tours that we went on. Each guide brings their own personality to the tour, so it’s always a little different, but the point is to learn a little more.”
Guests also learn about the brewing process and sample multiple beers at each site.
“It was great to hear that their business model included drivers that would be trained on presenting the beers at the different breweries, and also that the drivers would be expected to be familiar with the unique aspects of each individual brewery,” says Ben Mills, head brewer and owner of Fossil Cove Brewing Company in Fayetteville. “It is a quality experience that has no match in the area.”
Ozarkansas’ vibrant craft-beer scene has continued to grow since the company’s early tours. The standard beer tour includes three stops, with a back-of-the-house tour of each brewery and a flight of four sample beers at each stop.
They do what they can to include every area brewery in the rotation, but geographic and time constraints often determine which breweries are included in any given tour.
“We want to share the love,” Lora says. “We don’t want to exclude any of the breweries, but logistically, to sustain our business, we have to streamline it.”
Standard beer tours are approximately three hours, cost $70 per person, and include up to six people. Cost includes four tastings at three breweries along with pick up and drop off. Purchases made at the individual establishments are up to those on the tour, and a cooler is provided to keep those purchases fresh until the end of the tour. There are currently two standard tours – one to the north and one to the south.
Their South Tour includes Columbus House, Fossil Cove, and Apple Blossom, all in Fayetteville. Fayetteville’s West Mountain and Springdale’s Saddlebock, Core, and Black Apple Crossing are used regularly as alternate destinations.
Dustin and Lora are happy to work with patrons to design custom tours if there are specific breweries they would like to visit.
“In terms of beer tours, Hogshead has done it right,” says Andy Cotes, brewer and founder of Ozark Beer Company. “Instead of large tours, they focus on customer service and a more intimate experience, both of which are things we strive to do in our business. The experience they give to people is not one of being in a hurry, but of relaxation and spending the afternoon with a few good friends, which I think all of us could benefit from more often.”
It didn’t take long for the Hogshead fleet to grow. Vanny now has a sister, Lucinda, a GMC Yukon XL Denali. Depending on weather and maintenance, guests may choose to take either Vanny or Lucinda. Although the owners prefer to keep tour groups more intimate, they have occasionally used both vehicles to accommodate larger parties of up to 13.
The scope and breadth of the tours they provide are continually expanding. In addition to the original beer tours, Hogshead has added specialty tours focused on wine and cider, grapes and olives, farm and food, and music and beer.
The wine and cider tour includes the Tontitown Winery, Sassafras Springs Vineyard, and Black Apple Crossing cidery. The grapes and olives tour also goes to Tontitown Winery and Sassafras Springs, but substitutes Old World Imports, a Fayetteville olive oil and balsamic vinegar shop, for the cidery. Plans for 2016 incorporate additional farm and food and music and beer tours.
“My favorite thing about Hogshead Tours is the food and farm series,” says Adrienne Shaunfield, owner and operator of the Farmer’s Table Cafe. “They are helping to connect the local food scene by creating exciting partnerships with their tours.
“[In 2015 on] Valentine’s Day, they had a tour that included dinner at our café, chocolate tasting at Hello Cocoa, and then a drink at Maxine’s. So they created this fun cross-promotional partnership where four different small local businesses were involved in an event and advertised for each other. I didn’t even know about Hello Cocoa until we were partnered with them.”
Information about standard and custom tours is available at HogsHeadTours.com. The Hogshead website addresses frequently asked questions and has a calendar of tour dates and booking information.
“Our only request is that people come in with an open mind and be willing to try one new thing,” Lora says.
Guided tours are still relatively new to Ozarkansas. Many metropolitan areas have touring services that focus on local history, folklore, industry, architecture, art, music, and theater. When participating in tours that center around food and drink, it is easy for patrons to forget about the knowledge and expertise provided by the guides and focus on the transportation and logistics alone. But a tour is more than a shuttle service.
“A good tour, one that’s informative and well designed, is a special occasion, and we try to deliver it as such,” Lora says. “We want people to walk away thinking, ‘Wow! That was an incredible experience that I’ll never forget.’”